Exxon executive speaks at Tech

HOUGHTON – William Colton, vice president for corporate strategic planning at Exxon Mobil and Michigan Technological University alumnus, explored the future of energy in a talk Thursday titled “The Outlook for Energy: the View to 2040.”

“Most people don’t think too much about energy in their daily lives,” Colton said. “They can just go plug in their phone or computer and the energy is there.”

However, Colton said, America is rather unique in its energy availability. To determine a forecast for future energy consumption and how to best provide it, Exxon Mobil looks at factors in 100 different countries around the world, including those developing countries with little or no access to the types of energy Americans are accustomed to.

“Today 1.3 billion people have no access to electricity whatsoever, and in a way this is one of the most important points in the energy outlook,” Colton said. “People everywhere in the world want the same things that you and I do – they want a warm home, they want to be able to cook their food in a modern facility, they want a TV, a cell phone, and maybe even a car. This is all good, but all these things require energy.”

As the world becomes more connected and growing populations require energy to sustain a modern life style, Exxon Mobil must estimate the amount of energy that will be needed by 2040. The forecast shows the demand for energy in developing countries will grow before 2040 while remaining relatively flat in developed countries.

“The world will need about 35 percent more energy than what we have today,” Colton said.

Energy in the forecast includes many different forms, not simply electricity. It also looks at natural gas, coal, nuclear, wind/solar and other nontraditional forms. While the mix of what type of energy is used is forecasted to evolve, Colton said electricity will likely remain the largest sector of demand. However, even as international demand for energy grows, technology will help make processes more efficient, reducing the amount of energy required to meet demand.

“If there’s any one theme I want you to take away from this it’s the importance of technology,” Colton said. “Being at Michigan Tech that should be an easy point to make. Progress in the world is also about technology as one of the key drivers. In the energy business, new technologies allow us new ways to find oil and gas and also more efficient ways to use energy.”

Although Colton expressed optimism for the future of energy, he also recognized some challenges facing the energy industry.

“We still need to educate people in math and science. The world doesn’t have enough engineers and that’s something we need to work on,” he said. “I think we have a lot of work to do with government policies and finding policies that make sense and really get the right answer for everyone. Lastly, we want to work across international boundaries so when any one country succeeds, it’s part of a global success story.”

The information Colton presented can be found on Exxon Mobil’s website at corporate.exxonmobil.com/en/energy/energy-outlook. Colton will be giving another talk titled “How to Move Up in Life: What I wish someone had told me when I was 21” today at 3 p.m. in the Michigan Tech Memorial Union Ballroom. The talk is free and open to the public.